The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

I find your lack of faith…disturbing

October 30, 2012

Full disclosure: I am incapable of being completely, or even mainly, a detached observer or commentator when discussing either Star Wars or Disney, having grown up largely surrounded by both enterprises in equal measure. Anyone who walks into my office sees, hanging over my computer, two posters: a 50th anniversary Fantasia one-sheet, and an Episode I theatrical teaser poster. And chances are if it’s the first time you’ve come to visit me there, I’ll end up telling you why “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and the saga are the largely same cautionary tale about hubris. And scattered around the rest of my office, a plethora of Star Wars toys and Legos, a number of Disney collectibles…you get the picture. And I have on this blog been accused of being a corporate shill, incapable of saying bad things about the media companies that own the copyrights to the raw cultural materials out of which we craft the meanings of our lives.

All that by way of saying that today’s announcement that Disney had purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion and is planning a new Star Wars film for 2015 (Episode VII, reportedly, and expect massive argument within Geekdom At Large about just what that means right up until opening day, which for the sake of tradition better be late May 2015) produced the following reactions from me in this order:

1) speechlessness.

2) [a few minutes of frenzied Internet fact-checking to make sure that this was not a massive hoax]

3) you know, this could work.

4) OMG a new Star Wars film! In only three short years!!

You’ll hear enough from me about #4 over the next three years, I suspect. But even though John Scalzi basically already said what I think about Disney now owning the Star Wars franchise (and, parenthetically, one of the best special effects shops on the planet in ILM, and probably the best post-production sound recording facility in Skywalker Sound), let me just quickly underscore two points:

1) Disney has thus far managed not to mess up the Marvel franchises it bought, and the Pixar merger didn’t dissolve Pixar’s uniqueness.

2) Star Wars is basically a fairy tale with spaceships and laser guns, and if there’s one thing Disney knows, it’s fairy tales.

So I am cautiously optimistic about this whole thing, and I find other people’s lack of faith in Disney doing right by the saga…well, disturbing. I think Disney knows well enough what it is doing that it’s not going to muck things up, and things can only get better in Star Wars land because the prequels were, hang on, I can say this, not very good. (It takes effort for me to speak ill of any part of the saga.) And Disney has a whole stable of really good directors and writers on speed-dial (and under contract!) who can pull off something amazing. I don’t want to get into the speculation about a director for Episode VII (because I can’t see a way for my ultimate fantasy of a Joss Whedon Star Wars film to come true), but as for writers — Disney could do worse than to hand it to Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, co-creators of the TV series Once Upon A Time (in which they get to muck around with many fairy tales and Disney properties) and co-writers of Disney’s TRON: Legacy.

I suppose my one hesitation involves handing Han, Luke, Leia, etc. to the company that fought to extend corporate intellectual property rights basically indefinitely. But then again, it’s not as though Emperor Lucas was about to let his creations pass over into the public domain. And I think that the slow erosion of proprietary usage rights is basically inevitable, at least for widespread cultural phenomena like Star Wars — Lucas doesn’t get a fee every time someone alludes to The Force or quotes Han Solo. No, no one else can make a Star Wars film or write a novel set in that universe, not for commercial purposes. But Disney is more responsive to public criticism and feedback than Lucas ever was, so I think we’ll see the kind of fan-and-producer dialogue that we saw with Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings. No, not every fan will be completely happy, but at least we’ll have a new film to be unhappy about, and that’s progress.

Worst part of the deal is that no more Star Wars episodes will begin with that iconic 20th Century Fox fanfare.

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Patrick Thaddeus Jackson is Professor of International Studies in the School of International Service, and also Director of the AU Honors program. He was formerly Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of International Relations and Development, and is currently Series Editor of the University of Michigan Press' book series Configurations: Critical Studies of World Politics.